Monday, September 28, 2009
Bahrain is called the “kingdom of the two seas” and it’s an Arab island country in the Persian Gulf. Bahrain is a famous tourist destination – 3.5 million tourists visit Bahrain each year. Who knew? And why not? One of their main attractions is the Museum of Oil. You can’t tell me that’s not on your bucket list.
Okay, all kidding aside, Bahrain has island resorts that look quite heavenly – hotels with sea views, swaying palm trees, calm waters and untouched desert sands. You can jet ski, snorkel, dolphin watch, fish, you name it. Sign me up!
On the day of the Bahrain meal I had a full schedule. John had a football game in the morning, and afterwards, Julia and I went shopping at – what we call – the big mall in Toronto. The mall in Oakville is quite pathetic which doesn’t make any sense to me since Oakville is supposed to be “stuck up” because of all the money in this town. But anyway, Julia and I had to go shopping because we’re going to my cousin’s wedding in Chicago this week and there were some things we just had to get. – like shoes. But really, it’s crazy to shop till you drop here in Canada before you go to the U.S. You will almost always find things cheaper in the U.S. and, truth be known, I am biting at the bit to shop in downtown Chicago along magnificent mile. It’ll beat shopping at a mall – that’s for sure! When I’m in a mall, especially if it’s crowded, I get what my mother termed “mallitis.” You know you’ve got this affliction when you become increasingly irritable and impatient and you find yourself sighing and rolling your eyes and walking faster than everyone else (in fact cursing those who are walking so damn slow because they’re just there to stroll and God knows why??). You also get snappy with the sales people and your daughter is saying, “take a deep breath, mom.”
After hitting two malls and the grocery store we finally came home where I set about cooking our Bahrain meal. I cooked traditional Bahraini chicken machboos. It was a recipe that was supposed to take a couple of hours – at least. I did it in an hour so you could say I made the Bahraini chicken Machboos express. I wasn’t in the mood to piddle around. And anyway, it had taken me long enough to find the spices for this recipe and I didn’t even find them all. The recipe called for black dried limes and I went to two Middle Eastern grocery stores and they didn’t know what I was talking about. One woman suggested it was a Chinese thing. I don’t think so, but what do I know. I then couldn’t find a buharat spice mix that's a main ingredient in chicken machboos and so I ended up making it myself by mixing all these spices together.
While I was stirring my chicken mixture over the stove, Julia thought I said I was cooking brains. She told John and Kevin we were having brains for dinner. The funny thing was, they just shrugged their shoulders like oh, brains for dinner.
“No,” I said, “We’re having BAH-RAIN for dinner!”
By 8 o’clock I was so damn tired I was close to tears. I wanted to relax. Go to bed. I needed a vacation, to anywhere. Bahrain was looking pretty good.
Traditional Bahraini Chicken Machboos
4 1/2 cups water
650g basmati rice
1/4 cup coriander ( cilantro), chopped
1 green hot pepper, as desired
2 tsp buharat spice mix
1 1/2 tsp turmeric spice
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamon powder
2 garlic cloves
1 slice ginger root
3 TBSP butter
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 TBSP rose water
3 TBSP oil
3 tsp salt
Cut chicken in half ( or, if you want it express, buy pieces of chicken and cut it up in small pieces). Heat water and leave aside. In a small bowl, mix the buharat, turmeric, cumin and Cardamon together and add to the mixture 1 tsp of salt. Sprinkle half the spice mixture on the chicken.
Heat oil in large pan, fry onions, then add the pepper and black limes - you must make a hole in each lime. Add the chicken to the onion mixture and stir a few times. Sprinkle a tsp of cinnamon on the chicken and the rest of the spice mix. Cover the pan and cook for 3 min.
Add the garlic, chopped ginger, and tomato cubes to the pan and cover again for 3 min. Sprinkle the rest of the salt and pepper and pour in the water.
Cover the pan and let cook for about an hour or until the chicken is done (my chicken was already done by this point). Add coriander 5 min before you remove the chicken from the stock in the pan. While the chicken is cooking rinse rice and soak for 10 min in cold water. Remove chicken from the pan, put on a tray, brush it with oil and cinnamon and grill (or broil) until chicken in golden brown. Add rice to stack, stir, and cook on low heat until rice is done. Sprinkle rice with rose water and lemon juice and place butter pieces on top. Cover pan and cook for 30 min. Serve rice on serving plate and place chicken on top.
Buharart spice mix
2 TBSP ground black pepper
2 TBSP paprika
2 TBSP ground cumin
1 TBSP ground coriander
1 TBSP ground cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamon
Even though I am a world traveler, and have been to some pretty exotic far away places, I have never been to the Bahamas. Honestly, it never really interested me that much, but perhaps I should give it a chance. The history is certainly interesting.
We all know that Christopher Columbus first discovered the new world in the Bahamas. At the time, the people living there were known as the Lucayans – who originally came from South America. Columbus made contact with them and exchanged goods. Then the Spaniards came in and carried the people off to slavery, and the rest of the natives , were wiped out by diseases that the Europeans brought with them. Later, the Bahamas became a place pirates liked to hang out, including the infamous Blackbeard.
English Settlers from Bermuda, looking for religious freedom, formed the first British colony on the Island of Eleuthera and became quite prosperous through agriculture. After the American Revolution, southern loyalist and their slaves moved to the Bahamas so they could be under the protection of the crown. The population became mostly African from that point on.
When Cuba was closed to U.S. tourists in the 1950s, the Bahamas became one of the world’s most popular tourists destinations.
By 1973, the Bahamas was fully independent.
The Bahamas is an English speaking country consisting of 29 islands. It’s located in the Atlantic Ocean. It has a population of 330,000. The Bahamas cuisine – that is influenced by the American South - has fresh seafood, spice and coconut. Yes, coconut! Coconut trees are in abundance and are common in dishes, especially desserts.
For our meal, we had Nassau Lobster Thermidor, okra salad and fresh coconut cake. I know I said I never wanted to have anything to do with fresh coconut, and so Kevin was kind enough to spilt and cut the coconut for me. After using a screwdriver and a hammer he got the coconut open. That was only half the battle. He now needed to scrap out the flesh. I suggested he look up how to get out that stubborn flesh on the internet. He did, and came back in the kitchen to announce that one must first let it dry out for a few days and then scrape it out when it’s dry. Well, we didn’t have a few days. Oops.
Kevin worked very had scraping out the coconut flesh, and the cake turned out just so-so. We haven’t had much luck with the desserts since the baklava. But anyway, back to the main course.
In the grocery store I picked out two live lobsters in the tank. I told the meat counter guy which lobsters I wanted. I don’t like picking out the ones that are going to die. I can’t help but feel sorry for the little guys. It’s like dead man walking. But then I figure that the lobsters at the store are already doomed, their fate has been sealed. Maybe I’m doing them a favor. I mean, what kind of life is it for them in a cold tank with nothing to look at except other lobsters with their claws tied with rubber bands. It’s about quality of life, right? And then I try not to think of them going into the boiling water. But the truth be known, I love lobster and so I shamelessly look the other way.
At home, I made the Nassau lobster Thermidor – delish! You take the meat out and mix it with cheese, flour and butter and then put the mixture back in the shell to be broiled. We also had an okra salad with lime juice, garlic and hot pepper sauce. It was fabulous. The only problem was there wasn’t much food. I had only gotten two lobsters because I honestly didn’t know how it was going to turn out, and so we had to just savor what we had, appreciate every bite. Which is a good lesson to learn if you think about it. I mean, how many times do we just inhale our food and don’t even taste it?
So don’t feel too sorry for the lobsters. They are genuinely appreciated. They make our quality of life so much better. It’s about the finer things in life after all. It’s not enough to just be alive, waiting to die.
Nassau Lobster Thermidor
1 med. Lobster (I did two)
2 TBSP flour
1 cup of milk
pinch of salt
2 TBSP sherry
1 package of shredded cheese (I used a three cheese blend)
2 oz. Butter
1 small onion, finely chopped.
Pepper to taste
Cook lobster in boiling salted water until red, remove from water and cool (or have the fish counter person steam it for you). Cut lobster in half and remove meat from the shell but save the shell for stiffing. Heat milk in a saucepan and set aside. Melt butter in small saucepan on low flame. Add onion and simmer until tender. Add chopped cheese and flour and stir continuously. Pour in hot milk and stiff until mixture is smooth and thick. Add salt and pepper and sherry. Remove from fire. Cut lobster meat into small pieces. Add lobster to sauce and stuff in shell. Garnish with parmesan cheese, paprika and melted butter. Place under grill (or broiler) until golden brown. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.
2 TBSP oil
1 lb Okra, rinsed and caps snipped
pinch of salt and pepper
1/2 cup water
2 TBSP lime juice
2 finely minced garlic cloves
few drops of hot pepper sauce.
In a frying pan, heat 1 TBSP oil. Add okra and saute for 3 min. Add salt and pepper. Add water, cover and simmer on low heat for 5 min or until okra is tender. If needed, add more water. Pour onto serving plate. Mix remaining 1 TBSP oil, lime juice, garlic, and hot pepper sauce. Pour this mixture over okra.
Fresh Coconut Cake
2 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 tsp vanilla
1 to 1 1/2 cup, fresh, finely chopped coconut
3/4 cup coconut milk
Stir dry ingredients together. Cream shortening; add sugar gradually; cream together until light and fluffy. Add un beaten eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add vanilla and coconut. Add dry ingredients alternately with coconut milk, stirring only to blend. Bake in 2 8” cake pans at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes
Frost layers with confectioner’s powdered sugar creamed with margarine or butter, dash of salt and vanilla, thinned with more coconut milk and generously toss in chopped or grated coconut. Also, sprinkle coconut on top and sides of cake.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
I don’t know anything about Azerbaijan. I don’t even know how to pronounce it.
After researching it, I found it is surrounded by Iran, Armenia, Georgia, Russia and has a long coastline on the Caspian Sea. It has a majority Turkic and Shi’ite Muslim population and it was the first country in the Muslim world to establish a democratic and secular republic. Because the country is an eclectic blend of different traditions and flavors, Azeri cuisine combines Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia.
For our Azeri meal, I decided on cooking a layered rice pilaf with dried fruits and chestnuts. It was either that or khash, an oily soup made of boiled cow feet. Laugh now, but it is said that the Azeri people owe their legendary long lifespan to this soup. I suppose I could have tried making it and it would have been amusing. But then I found this rice pilaf dish, and, I don’t know, it sounded like something we’d actually want to eat. Given that I am cramming all these ethnic dishes down my kid’s throats (okay - not really they dig this project), and then when I’m not cooking lu lu kabobs and Algerian couscous, I’m ordering pizza and running to fast food because I can’t bring myself to cook (how is it that I’m supposed to cook something normal now? I mean, how boring!), and then, can you imagine, I serve them pig's feet?
I know I must get a bit more exotic and daring – that’s where the mopane worms come in handy – but I remind you – I am still in the A’s. I will have plenty of chances to eat pig feet, worms, and exotic meats (maybe even balut). But for our Azerbaijan meal, it’s rice pilaf.
So you think I had it easy? Wrong! Try finding chestnuts when it’s not the Christmas season (though the stores are already sending out Christmas catalogues and it’s only September, so go figure). I also had a bit of trouble finding saffron, but I did find it at the third store I went to. But I was running all over trying to find chestnuts, and I hate running around to different grocery stores trying to find stuff. That’s why I am not a bargain shopper. When I’m at a store and I see what I want I get it. I don’t even want to know that I could get the same thing for two dollars cheaper at a store across town. For me, my time is valuable and it’s not worth it.
Now, here is where I’m feeling like an idiot (as you’ll learn that feeling comes around quite often). After many tries to find chestnuts (and feeling pretty damn desperate) I went into this grocery store and I found a SIGN in the produce section that said chestnuts! I almost cried when I saw it. I love this store. I love this store, I kept saying to myself. But then I looked under the sign and all I saw were these little round things that sort of looked like chestnuts if you got creative about it. I must of known these were not chestnuts, but I so badly wanted them to be that I literally tricked myself into thinking they were. I grabbed a plastic bag and greedily fill it up. But my delusion (or whatever it was) came crashing down at the cashier’s line.
“What are these?” the cashier asked.
“I don’t think so…”
“They’ re chestnuts. There was a sign right above these and they said chestnuts!”
The cashier eyed my find suspiciously. She held up my plastic bag and yelled across several aisles, “Jan, aren’t these lychees?” The cashier turned back to me. “These are lychees. Chestnuts are darker and have a harder shell.”
Yes, I know that, I thought. Why can’t you just play along?
The woman in line behind me chimed in, “Lychees are really great in martinis.”
“But are they at least like chestnuts?”
“No, dear,” the woman behind me said. “They’re a fruit, not a nut.”
I ended up going back to the produce section believing that there must be chestnuts, and lo and behold, I did find some – they were in a bag and already peeled. This made cooking the rice pilaf easier, but I really did want to learn how to peel a chestnut. I guess I’ll have to wait until Christmas.
Side note: I looked up lychee on the internet, and honestly, I’m not sure I had lychees either.
While I made our Azerbaijan meal John had three boys over so that that they could, supposedly, do a school project. It was a bit of a mad house while I stir-fried dried fruits and chestnuts and cooked rice. The dish was not bad – it was a one-pot meal sort of thing. It also had chicken and onions. I served black tea with the rice pilaf because I read that the Azeri people drink a lot of black tea.
The kids said they liked it – Julia took a couple of helpings. John ate it but he is not a fan of dried fruit. I wonder if he'd preferred pig feet?
Now at last, I am officially done with the A’s!
Layered Rice Pilaf With Dried Fruits and Chestnuts (Parcha - Dosheme Plov)
3 cups white Basmati rice
4 TBSP butter, melted
1 cup peeled chestnuts
1/2 cup pitted dried apricots
1 cup dried sour plum, pitted
1/2 cup pitted dates
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken cut into cubes
1 med. onion, sliced in half circles
1/3 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 3 TBSP hot water
Salt and pepper
RInse the rice. Soak the rice in a container filled with lukewarm water mixed with 1 TBSP of salt. While the rice is soaking, prepare the fruits and chestnuts. In a pan, heat 2 TBSP butter over med. heat. Add peeed chestnuts and fry for 3 min. Add dried apricots, plums and dates and stir-fry for 3 min. Add raisins and fry for 1 min.
In a large sauce pan, combine 10 cups of water and 2 TBSP salt. Bring to a boil. Drain the soaked rice and add it, in batches, to the pot. Boil for about 7 to 10 min, stirring occasionally. The rice is ready when it surfaces to the top. The rice should be barely done - not soft. Drain rice and set aside.
Melt 1 TBSP butter in a pot over med. heat. Arrange meat in one layer at the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Follow with a layer of sliced onions. Simmer over med. heat uncovered, without stirring, for about 3 min.
Place half of the rice in the pot over the onion. Arrange the dried fruits and chestnuts in one layer on top of the rice. Pile the rest of the rice on top of the fruits. Pour 1 TBSP melted butter over rice. Place a clean dish towel over the pot and cover firmly with a lid to absorb the steam. Lift the corners of the towel over the lid. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 30 min. Then open the lid and sprinkle the saffron water on top of rice. Cover again and simmer for another 30 min. When ready, meat should be cooked and lightly golden on the bottom.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Last December I took John and Julia to the production of Sound of Music. They loved it, especially Julia. I bought her the sound track and the movie and she learned how to play “My Favorite Things” and “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” on the piano. My favorite song from the Sound of Music was “Edelweiss.” At the end of the story, at the talent show before they escaped German occupied Austria, the Captain sings “Edelweiss.” The song is about Austria’s national flower. It symbolized loyalty of Austria . The words are beautiful and sad.
Every morning you greet me
Small and White, clean and bright
You look happy to meet me.
Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever.
Bless my homeland forever.
For our Austrian dinner we decided to go to a restaurant called “Black Forest Inn”. It’s located in Hamilton, about 30 minutes away, and when we got there the place was busy – not just with people, but busy with decorative things everywhere, including coo-coo clocks and oil paintings of landscapes on the walls. There was flowered wallpaper and flowers painted on the booths and doors, wooden chairs with heart shapes cut out of the backs, and figurines on shelves. The restaurant was casual and filled with families; the patrons were an odd mix of older grandparent-types and young people with tattoos
“It’ll be a 45 minute wait,” the hostess told us.
Kevin and the kids went back to the car to watch a movie while I stayed at the restaurant with my cell phone in hand to call them when our table was ready. I didn’t mind the wait. I was glad to sit and relax. John and I had played tennis right before we ventured out to dinner. I reflected on how competitive I get when I play him. He quite often beats me, which is pathetic, really. I have years more experience playing the game. I even had tennis lessons when I was a kid, for God’s sake, and he hasn’t had one formal lesson. He’s naturally athletic and I’m not – that’s what it boils down to. Still, when we play it’s war – at least in my mind. I curse like a sailor and I mumble things under my breath that no mother should mumble about her child. Hell if I’m going to let this little sucker beat me! I’ll say to myself. Then WHAM – I’ll miss another shot.
Rght now, John and I are basically at the same skill level. Our games are very much neck and neck. Many times our games go like this: Duce. Mom’s advantage. Duce. John’s advantage. Duce. Mom’s advantage and it will go back and forth like this in what seems an eternity. I’ll be exhausted and want the damn game to end – but the hell if I’m going to let him win. So I fight, struggle and sweat, even if it means prolonging the game for God knows how long. And the whole time we’re playing I’m thinking next summer or the summer after he’s going to kick my ass at this game. I’m going to be humiliated! It’s only enviable, and he’ll no longer say, “Hey mom, let’s go play some tennis.”
It wasn’t until eight o’clock when we finally sat down to eat. A waitress dressed in a German/Austrian costume of a blue dress with a white apron, her hair haphazardly pulled back behind her head, gave us a friendly, if not, tired hello. She handed us each a menu and I told her that we wanted strictly Austrian food. Her expression didn’t change when I said this making me wonder if she got that a lot, or she was thinking, duh!
John ordered Rindsrouladen (Beef Rolls). Tender beef stuffed with bacon, carrots, onions and pickles, braised in a brown sauce served with potatoes and red cabbage and soup. Julia and I each got the Vienna Schnitzel ( Julia kept calling it shit-zel) except she got a side of bread dumpling with mushroom gravy and I got, what looked like pasta, with mushroom gravy. Kevin got the Vienna sausage with sauerkraut and potatoes. For all of us, our favorite part of the meal was the soup – a meatball and dumpling soup, is what they called it, but it had one big meatball and a bunch of noodles. The food was all good but my stomach was suffering from the heavy, greasy food I’ve been eating – the Australian beer battered fish the night before and now the fried schnitzel and then that dough and gravy.
During our meal I told the kids some things about Austria. It’s a landlocked country in central Europe. Its terrain is very mountainous and 90 percent of the population speaks German – which is the country’s official language. Austria made a broad contribution to various forms of art, most notably music. For example, Austria is the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
On the way home I felt tired from all that heavy food and the tennis game John and I played. It suddenly dawned on me that when I play tennis with John it’s not about beating him, it’s about keeping him, keeping him my little boy. When he beats me at games that only means he’s growing up and away from me. By me being a competitive player in tennis, it makes me still some-what cool. But later when I’m too easy to beat, then what?
I remembered when John was three and I checked on him while he was sleeping. He looked so cute and sweet and I broke down crying. I realized that my little three year old was not going to stay my little three year old for long. Some day I would no longer be the center of his world.
In the car, I turned around and said to the kids, “When we do the Philippines maybe we can eat balut!” John and Julia used to be captivated when I told them about the Filipino delicacy – a 24-day old duck embryo hard-boiled in the shell. John made a face and rolled his eyes. “Eating balut is stupid,” he said.
I turned back around and sighed. Maybe so, I thought, But you didn’t used to think so!
I tried to remember the words of the song Edelweiss.
Every morning you greet me.
Small and white, clean and bright
You look happy to meet me.
Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever.
I couldn't help but get a little teary eyed.
Friday, September 18, 2009
I’ve never been to Australia and I don’t know much about it other than they have kangaroos and koalas. My step-father was there recently and he said the women are hot, and my friend from South Africa said a lot of South Africans immigrate there. For me, oddly, most of my encounters with Australians came from Burma. My parents lived in Burma when I was in college and my friends and I would go to the Australian Club in Rangoon on Friday nights. The Aussies didn’t seem to mind that we were underaged. It was there that I drank too much and jumped into their pool forgetting that I was wearing my new watch that my mother gave me – and it wasn’t water proof.
I remember a crazy party at the house of an Australian Embassy secretary. There were lots of boozes, dancing and games. We danced in a darkened room, that had been cleared of furniture, until someone screamed because they spotted a scorpian under our bare feet. That was the night I hooked up with a handsome young American doctor who was passing through Burma. He was with the Doctors Without Borders Program, or something like it. The Australian secretary was not pleased as she had had her eye on him too.
And I will never forget one particular Aussie – a man with a large gut – who volunteered to dress up as Santa Claus for the Christmas party, at the American Ambassador’s residence, and he arrived on an elephant smelling like beer.
Beer. Fun. Beautiful accents. That’s what I think of when I imagine Australians.
Australia is the world’s 6th largest country and its largest island. It is the only island that is also a continent. It's the home of the largest living thing on earth, the Great Barrier Reef.
Between 30,000 and 50,000 years ago, the Aborigines arrived. Their presence in Australia is not easily explained as they have no evident racial or linguistic kinship to the countries in the region. But, unfairly, history rarely starts until a European has discovered it. For many, that came with the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1770 - even though he is wrongly credited with discovering Australia (Asians were there hundreds of years before and a couple of Dutch seamen stumbled across it). But Cook claimed it in the name of the British. Cook, known as one of the greatest explorers, died in Hawaii in a fight with Hawaiians in 1779.
One of the primary reasons for the British settlement of Australia was the establishment of a penal colony because their correctional facilities back home were overcrowded. Australia may be the only country that started out as a prison.
Australia also has some interesting creatures (besides kangaroos and koalas). Of the world’s ten most poisonous snakes, all are from Australia ( A fact my son John appreciates. He loves snakes and if he finds one he will pick it up, and he has brought snakes home on several occasions. He even got bit once and we had to rush him to the hospital). This certain past time of my son’s would be unwise if we lived in Australia.
It would be unwise for him to pick up most creatures in Australia, as the paralysis tick and the tunnel web spider, are just a couple of examples of Australian’s lethal critters. Another interesting fact: Eighty percent of all the plants and animals that live in Australia exists nowhere else.
Dinner tonight was Beer Batter Fish and Chips and Pavlova for dessert. Let me just start out by saying that I hate frying food. Every time I do, grease flies everywhere and I always get burned, and at the end of it, I always feel like a big greasy blob. Well, tonight was no exception. And while I was making this beer batter fried fish I was watching Dr. Oz’s show about what to eat to live longer. I’ll be willing to bet that eating beer batter fish is not one on his list. All of us liked the fish except for John. I thought that was a bit amusing. He loved the Armenian whole fish (with head and all) with mint and parsley, but I fry him up some fish and he doesn’t like it.
The Pavlova was beautiful, though a bit too sweet. I asked Julia what she thought of it and she said, “Let’s just say it’s different.” She’s so diplomatic.
AUSSIE BEER BATTER FISH AND CHIPS
4 fish fillets
2 cups plain flour
salt and pepper
10 1/2 fl oz beer
oil for deep frying
Dust fish fillets with corn flour. MIx flour, salt and pepper, add beer gradually, stirring well until smooth. Dip the fish fillets into batter. Cook in hot oil until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel. Serve with lemon, tartare sauce and hot chips.
4 egg whites
1 cup super fine sugar
2 tsp vinegar
1 TBSP corn starch
half-pint whipped cream
Fruit - kiwi, strawberries, blueberries
Place egg whites in a bowl. Beat slowly until frothy, then increase the speed and beat until stiff. Gradually add the sugar, beating well after each addition. (When all the sugar has been added, the mixture should be shiny, very stiff and should stand in peaks). Gently fold in the vinegar and corn starch with a spoon.
LIne a cookie sheet with parchment paper and grease it lightly. Pile the meringue mixture to form a cylinder. Preheat the overn to just under 300 degrees. Bake the Pavlova between 90 and 105 minutes. When done, cool, and top with whipped cream and fruit.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Do you remember the song recorded by Rosemary Clooney called Come on a my house ? The first line goes, Come on – a my house, my house, I’m gonna give you candy… It was composed by two Armenian Americans, Ross Bagdasarian (who later created the children’s favorite Alvin and the Chipmunks) and his cousin William Saroyan. They’re not the only famous Armenians, there’s also Andre Agassi, Cher, Jack Kevorkian, and the children’s song writer Raffi. I even read that Princess Diana was 1/64th Armenian!
The Republic of Armenia, is a land locked mountainous country that is bordered by Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Iran. The former Republic of the Soviet Union is now a unitary, multiparty, democratic nation-state. Armenia is one of the oldest countries in the world and it prides itself on being the first nation to formally adopt Christianity in the early 4th century. In fact, the country once included Mount Ararat, which is the mountain that Noah’s Ark rested on after the flood.
For our Armenian dinner we had Lulu Kebobs, Armenian baked fish, roasted eggplant, hummus, and Shakarishee – Armenian sugar cookies. I had a hard time finding some of the meat for my recipes such as the ground lamb and the whole fish. After going to several stores I finally found whole fish at our butchery in downtown Oakville. I wanted a whole Tilapia or haddock but they didn’t have that. Instead they had red snapper or sea bream. I went with the sea bream. It ended up being an excellent choice. It has a mild, white meat and a bit oily. I mentioned to the fish vendor that it is hard to find whole fish and he said, “It’s hard to sell it.” I think it’s a shame. Fish tastes so much better when cooked whole with the bones (but I do realize it's a pain to eat that way). The Armenian baked fish was excellent covered in tomatoes, onion, parsley and mint.
The Lulu kebobs were also good. They were like little hamburgers on a stick. The meat was a mixture of ground sirloin and ground lamb mixed with vegetables and red wine. The roasted eggplant was a different story. I don’t think I’ll be doing that again – even though I love eggplant. After roasting the eggplant I removed the skins and processed it and then mixed with onions, parsley and olive oil. When I read the recipe I thought it sounded good.
Lastly, Julia and I cooked the Armenian sugar cookies (shakarishee). It was very easy to make and had a melt-in-your-mouth texture.
1 lb ground sirloin
1 lb ground lamb
2 med. Yellow or red onions
1/4 cup green bell pepper –chopped
1/2 cup red wine
8 oz. Tomato sauce
1/4 cup parsley
1 tsp fresh basil
salt and pepper
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp cumin
Combine the above ingredients and then chill to firm up. Press onto wooded skewers, make into oblong patties, or treat just as you would hamburger patties. Barbeque.
AMENIAN BAKED FISH
2 lbs fish – whole or fillet
3 large ripe tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup water
Brush fish with oil on both sides and broil on high in oven for 3 minutes on each side. Lay fish in the bottom of the baking pan and spread remaining ingredients on top. Pour olive oil and water over all. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.
On a barbeque place the whole eggplants on the grill and roast – turning occasionally – until the skins are blackened. Remove from the grill and let cool until they can be handled for peeling off the blackened skin. Process in a food processor or blender. Mix with chopped onions and parsley mixed with olive oil and vinegar for a chilled salad.
SHAKARISHEE (Armenian sugar cookies)
2 1/4 cups flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup soften unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)
In a large bowl, beat together the butter, egg yolk and sugar until smooth and almost white in color. Add flour and blend well. If you are using the nuts, add them in as well. Shape into small rectangles. Bake in a 250 degree oven on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 35 – 45 minutes.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
When most of us hear about Argentina we think of Evita and the famous song “Don’t cry for me Argentina.”
When I was twelve and my mother and I were living in the Philippines - my parents were divorced by that time - my mother was dating a man named Mac. He was the Counsel General at the American Embassy in Manila and my mother was a junior officer. In fact, this was her first overseas assignment as a Foreign Service officer. Mac was much older than my mother, had already been divorced two or three times, palled around with Manila’s millionaires, drove around in a BMW, and he had all the latest gadgets, including a VCR. Since my mom and I only owned a tiny black-and-white television set, being able to watch movies of my choice was really cool. If my mom and Mac wanted me out of the way all they had to do was suggest I watch a movie. My favorite movie, that Mac owned, was the story of Eva Peron.
I remember thinking I wanted to be just like her. Evita had fought for the poor and for women’s right to vote in a national election. She had been poor herself who rose up out of a strong determination to be an actress and married Juan Peron who became the president of Argentina. She was a savior for Argentina’s poor, and when she died of cancer at 33, some compared her to Jesus. But the movie showed she could be cruel and ruthless. I liked that about her because it made her complex and interesting.
When I was twelve, my confidence in myself was waning with each step closer to adolescence. It was good for me to learn about women who would stop at nothing to get what they wanted, to make a mark in the world. Eva Peron’s story made me feel powerful. It made me want to tell all those, who told me what I couldn’t do, to buggar off! She gave me hope, like she gave Argentine’s poor, with a message that it didn’t matter who you were or where you came from, you were still valued.
For our project, I had the night off from cooking. We drove 45 minutes North of Toronto to go to one of the few Argentinean restaurants in the area called The Sky Ranch. It was located in a run-down area in a little strip mall. On the outside it looked plain, and if we hadn’t been looking for it we would have missed it. In the inside it had a warm unpretentious ambience that only a local, family-owned restaurant could accomplish. The waitress looked at us curiously. I got the feeling that the place was a “regulars” joint, when someone new came in, it was noticed. It was a hard place to be inconspicuous, especially with my camera and notebook in hand.
The nice thing about eating out for our project, besides not messing up the kitchen, is we can all order something different and in that way try a greater sampling of the cuisine. Most of the food of Argentina has been adapted from other cultures – Spanish, Italian and German foods have all had an influence. But one thing is for sure, Argentineans love their meat and eat it at least once a day. They love to roast their meat on a grill and they mix their meats and cuts, sometimes including udders, intestines, and kidneys. They also love chorizos, empanadas and locro, a corn-based stew.
At The Sky Ranch, we ordered Provoleta a la Porilla (grilled provolone cheese) and several Empanada de Carnes (Argentinean meat pies) for appetizers. For our main course, I choose Cozuela de Marisco (seafood cooked in tomato sauce). They should have just called it seafood soup. It was excellent with a variety of seafood in it including squid, octopus, shrimp (with the shell on. I wasn’t sure how to eat that!), pieces of fish and mussels. Kevin ordered the Lomite Completo (steak on a bun served with ham, cheese, fried egg, lettuce and tomato). Basically, it was a steak sandwich and delish! Julia first ordered the Milanesa de carne (breaded veal cutlet) but it turned out they didn’t have it, so Julia got the Milanesa de pollo (breaded chicken cutlet), which was good, but not a far stretch from chicken strips you’d get on a children’s menu. Lastly, John ordered the Chirrasco Argentino a la Parrilla (grilled Argentean steak). It was flavorful and juicy and came with a large helping of mashed potatoes.
We didn’t get crazy and order intestine, and because of that, we all loved our meals and it was fun watching people as they poured into the restaurant. The table next to us was a large group and they had grills on their table with heaping piles of different meats. In the corner of the restaurant was an area set up for a band. The Sky Ranch has live music on Saturday nights. Kevin asked when the band would start playing. 9:00 he was told. We finished up around 8:30 so we missed the live music. It was too bad, but we promised ourselves we’d be back again – in a year. The restaurant is too far away for us to just drop in, and if we’re going to drive 45 minutes to go to a restaurant it will be for a cuisine still left on my list.
While we waited for our check, Kevin mentioned that Obama’s poll numbers were down. I didn’t like how he said it; he had a little smirk on his face.
“You sound as if you’re happy about that,” I said angrily. Every time Kevin and I talk about politics my blood boils. It’s always a big mistake for us to go there. But once we start it’s very hard to stop. It’s like watching something disgusting on T.V, you want to pull your eyes away from it, but you can’t.
I tried to take in the ambience and forget about my anger. I knew in my heart of hearts Obama would be revered in our history books, and the history books around the world. Just by being elected he has given the world something we haven't had in a long time – hope that no matter who you are or where you come from, you can make your mark, achieve the impossible. He’s not perfect, but he has that ability – like Eva Peron – to touch something inside us.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Okay. I may have said I wanted to live in Andorra (I have a feeling I'm going to find lots of places I want to live), but Antigua and Barbuda is where I want to have a vacation home!
Close your eyes and imagine this: warm white sand, crystal blue water under a blue cloudless sky, palm trees blowing in the wind. If you have the time, look up Antigua and Barbuda on the internet and check out the pictures. Can you imagine the first explorer to discover this one?
Antigua and Barbuda are located in the Eastern Caribbean and Antigua is the largest of the English-speaking Leeward Islands - and large it ain't. It's 14 miles long and 11 miles wide, encompassing 108 square miles with a population of 68,000.
Barbuda, a flat coral island, is only 68 square miles. The nation also includes a tiny uninhabited island called Redonda - now a nature preserve.
Check out this climate: Temperatures range from the mid-seventies in the winter to the mid-eighties in the summer. It is also the sunniest of the Eastern Caribbean Islands and has low humidity year-round. I'm there!
On tonight's menu we had pork chops with banana and bacon and sweet potato mash. Antigua and Barbuda recipes are typically heavy - meats and stews and accompanied by starchy vegetables, which is unexpected. For island life I think light meals, don't you?
Dinner got high marks from all of us, and my kitchen stayed relatively clean. Kevin helped by grilling the pork chops and the banana and bacon skewers. Having a cook-out on a Friday night turned out quite nicely (and I didn't plan it that way).
Julia had a friend stay over for dinner. Warning: If any of you come to dinner at our house in the next year, we WILL be serving some sort of ethnic dish and there is no guarantee that it will be good, and it may be weird. I'm sorry, but if I'm cooking than it's from a country on my list. On the days I don't cook an ethnic dish, I don't cook.
Anyway, Julia's friend lucked out because our meal was good and was not weird. Julia's friend told her mom that my Antigua dinner was yummy.
During dinner I took a survey of what everyone liked the best. The winner was the bananas wrapped in bacon, and coming in second was the sweet potato mash.
Excuse my pictures this time. On both the pork chops and the bacon and banana skewers, I served everyone's food before I realized I forgot to take a picture of it. I tried to put some of the food back on the serving platters, but I just couldn't make it look pretty.
PORK CHOPS WITH BANANA AND BACON
4 pork chops, about 1" thick
3/4 TBSP cumin
salt and pepper
juice of a lemon
2 TBSP softened butter
2 large bananas
6 strips of bacon
Combine the butter, salt, pepper and cumin. Rub mixture into both sides of the meat. Saute the bacon briefly, until some of the fat has rendered. Remove and drain. Peel bananas and cut into 1 1/4 " chunks. Place bananas on a dish and sprinkle with lemon juice. Cut the bacon strips into lengths just long enough to wrap around each banana slice. Place bananas on skewers, threading where the bacon slices overlaps. Place the pork chops on a hot grill, for 15 minutes, turning once. Turn grill down to medium, adding the bacon and the bananas; grill another 10 minutes, turning both the meat and the bananas. For extra flavor, baste with beer, while the meat cooks.
SWEET POTATO MASH
1 sweet potato
2 russet potatoes
1/2 cup milk
2 TBSP vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 pimento pepper, seeded and chopped (I couldn't find a pimento pepper so I used chopped pimento in a jar.)
1/4 cup chopped chives
1/2 cup grated cheese (optional) (I grated a mixture of cheddar and parmesan)
Peel both types of potatoes, boil and mash. Add milk, salt and freshly ground black pepper and combine. Heat the oil in a small frying pan and saute the onion, garlic and pepper for just a minute. Add to the potatoes, and add the chives and cheese. Place in an oven proof dish and sprinkle with cheese. Broil until the cheese is melted and the top is browned. Garnish with chopped chives.
It’s been a busy week. It’s hard adjusting to the lazy days of summer and then jumping back to a school year routine. There’s been lots of running around getting things for school, signing up for activities, and battles at bedtime. John is now in the 6th grade and in french immersion, and Julia loves having a locker! She told me it makes her feel very grown up.
A friend of mine asked me how I’m feeling at this point in the process of eating the cuisines of 195 countries. The truth is, I can see this taking over my life but I am committed and there's no turning back now. I can't believe I'm still in the A's!!! (I still have Antigua, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria and Azerbaijan). I will be SOOO happy to move on to the B's!
What's great is my family is loving it - including Kevin. On Wednesday Kevin had to go out of town and when I told him I was going to do Angola that tonight and he was genuinely disappointed. As it turned out, I decided to do Angola on – Thursday.
There is also great news! My friend from South Africa, who used to live in Botswana, arranged for her friend to send me Mopane worms. They are a popular snack food in Botswana. Isn't that exciting? We'll just have to hope it gets through customs! Also, my friend from Burma is sending me Burmese recipes. Plus, I found a South African grocery store, here in Oakville, that sells ostrich meat! And the seafood Butchery here in town told me - that even though they have never sold conch meat - they'll find some for me if I give them a few days notice. I get so pumped up when friends and relatives tell me how much they like my blog. My friend, who writes my favorite blog "Parenting isn't for sissies," wrote an article on her Chicago Parent blog about my project. Last night another friend and her husband called and gave me great advice on how I can get the word out about my blog.
I am very excited about eating things I’ve never had, but I’ve realized that I don’t know as much as I thought I did about food – and geography. It’s been humbling.
For example, I told you in my Algeria post that I did not know what a rutabaga was. I thought it was this exotic vegetable that could only be found in certain parts of Africa. When it was in my Algerian recipe, I didn’t even bother looking for it at the grocery store. Well, today, I’m at my local grocery store buying things for my Antigua and Barbuda dinner and there, in plain day light, was a big basket of rutabagas! I was so excited that I decided to buy one even though I don’t need one anymore and, to tell you the truth, it didn’t look particularly good to eat either. When I went through the check-out line I was expecting the cashier to ask me what it was (in fact, I was kind of hoping she would) but she didn’t. She didn’t even take a second glance at it and quickly punched in the code without even having to look it up on her cheat sheet! Then I thought; okay, was I the only idiot who didn’t know what a rutabaga was?
For those of you who are as clueless as I am, a rutabaga is a large root vegetable also called a Swedish turnip. Rutabagas are not, as I had thought, some strange African vegetable, but in fact, from Europe. Apparently, they are widely eaten in North America as well. In Canada they are used as a side dish (This is what I have read. I have yet to go to a dinner party here in Canada where they serve rutabaga) and in the U.S. they are added to stews and casseroles.
During World War 1, many Germans were kept alive on a diet consisting of rutabagas. After the war, they were nicknamed “famine food.”
Cool facts about rutabagas:
In the U.K. and Ireland, before pumpkins were readily available, rutabagas were made into jack o’lanterns.
In Scotland, they were the ancient symbol of a damned soul.
I'm not even out of the A's and already my family and I have learned a lot about food and our world.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
My husband, Kevin, who is a sports fan, remembers the 1992 summer Olympic games when the U.S. basketball dream team beat Angola 116 to 48. I have to admit, I didn't know anything about Angola - I didn't even remember them at the summer olympics.
Angola - a mostly Christian nation - is on the western side of Southern Africa and twice the size of Texas. Portuguese slave traders established colonies on Angola’s Atlantic coast in the 16th century. The colonist cultivated sugar cane and tobacco for the European market. In 1975 Angola won its independence but continued in a civil war until 2002. The country is in ruins after decades of war and is devastatingly poor and heavily in debt. It has one of the lowest life expectancies and infant mortality rates in the world. Transparency International – an anti-corruption watch dog – rated Angola as one of the 10 most corrupt countries in the world in 2005.
However, the country’s economy has grown and it has established some political stability since 2002. It’s a large petroleum and diamond producer and I read that Angola is China’s biggest supplier of oil. If that’s the case, I can’t imagine they’ll stay poor for long – unless they are so corrupt they don’t use that money to get out of debt, rebuild their country and help their people.
Does anyone know how to open a coconut? In the Angolan dessert I made – Cacada Amarela (yellow coconut pudding) – it called for freshly grated flesh from half a coconut. I’ve eaten lots of fresh coconut but I have never opened one. So I looked it up on the internet. Apparently there are all kinds of ways to do it, but when reading the directions it did not sound too terribly difficult. One site said: Hold the coconut in the palm of your hand and firmly tap the seams that runs between the“eyes” with the blunt edge of a heavy knife. Continue tapping and rotating the coconut in your hand until the coconut splits open. This should happen after a few turns and into equal parts. Yeah. Not quite. I waited until John and Julia got home from school to attempt this. John had a friend over and he looked at me strangely when I excitedly told them we were going to open a coconut today! In the kitchen we got out the coconut and the directions. I tried tapping and rotating while eager eyes watched. Nothing. John tried it. Nothing. I then got out a hammer. Nothing. I got out a hammer and nail. Nothing -not even a dent. John, his friend and Julia took it outside and started beating it on our stone steps. Nothing. We then took turns pounding the nail into it. We managed to create a tiny hole. I finally went in the house frustrated and about to give up while John continued to beat this coconut against the steps like he was murdering the thing. Finally Julia came running into the house. “Mommy. Mommy, we got the coconut open!” What a glorious thing! I ran outside. The coconut was cracked. I got a glass so we could drain the liquid into it. John smashed it a couple more times and FINALLY it really did open! The kids were eager to try the coconut milk which looked and tasted more like bad water. John’s friend stood back and eyed us suspiciously and when we offered him some of this coconut water he politely said, “No thanks.”
The meal was not good. We had Camaro Grelhado Com Mohlo Cru (grilled prawns with raw sauce) – these were tasty but how hard is it to blotch shrimp? I blotched the rest of the meal. We had Arroz de Coco e Papaia ( Rice with coconut and papaya). It wasn’t bad, but I will not being making it again. My version tasted watery and had little flavor. Though it's too bad we didn’t like it because papaya is very good for you and my kids love it. Lastly, I made Cacada Amarela (yellow coconut pudding). I hate to say this, but for all that work to get that darn coconut open, the pudding was horrible. I don’t think it’s the fault of the pudding, although I swear I followed the directions. It just wouldn’t get creamy - it thickened slightly, but it remained soupy. And then the coconut pieces in it were hard little chunks floating around that made it even more unappetizing. I took a few bites and threw the rest out. The kids didn't finish their pudding either.
When Kevin came home he ate his whole bowl of pudding and told me he liked it! “I love coconut” he said. I told him that I will not be cooking anything else involving fresh coconut. It was not only hard opening the thing but then it was a pain to scrape the flesh off! There have got to be special tools for that! My dinner got low marks from the kids but I’m sure that’s no reflection on the cuisine of Angola - just my cooking.
After that great recommendation here are the recipes:
Camaro Grelhado Com Mohlo Cru (grilled prawns with raw sauce)
450g shelled tiger prawns (I used a pound)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
100g finely chopped spring onions
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp salt
4 TBSP white wine vinegar
4 TBSP water
Place all the ingredients (except prawns) in a pestle and mortor and grind to a paste. Thread the prawns onto skewers then brush with the sauce before cooking on a barbecue until done (about 3 minutes on each side). Brush again with the sauce when turning. Serve with rice.
Arroz de Coco e Papaia (rice with coconut and papaya).
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
500ml coconut milk (I used one can)
1 papaya, de-seeded, peeled and cut into small dice.
Add rice, 60ml water, salt, cinnamon and coconut in a pan and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the rice is done. Fluff the rice, take off the heat and leave stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
Mash half the papaya then add this mush and the remaining papaya cubes to the rice. Place back on heat and heat mixture. Serve.
Cacada Amarela (yellow coconut pudding)
720 ml water
2 whole cloves
freshly-grated flesh from 1/2 coconut
6 egg yolks
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Combine sugar, water and cloves in a small sauce pan and bring to boil, stirring constantly. When it starts boiling, stop stirring and boil for about 20 minutes. Reduce heat then remove the cloves with a slotted spoon. Add the grated coconut a little at a time, stirring well after each addition. Continue to cook, stirring the mixture very frequently, for a further 10 minutes (the coconut should be translucent). Remove from heat. Add the egg yolks to a bowl and heat until slightly thicken. While whisking, add half the syrup mix to the eggs then pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan. Whisk, then return to heat. Cook misture over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring. The mixture will thicken. Spoon pudding into 4 serving dishes, garnish with cinnamon.
Monday, September 7, 2009
I think I might have found the place I want to live. Andorra has the highest life expectancy in the world and it’s famous for shopping. This little country, wedged between France and Spain, with a population of 76,900 has 2000 shops! It’s also known for having the most dramatic scenery in all of the Pyrenees. And, on average, it has 300 days of sunshine a year. The only disadvantage that I can see is that it’s land locked – but then it’s between France and Spain. I mean, how awful could that be! But then I read that the country does have a sea opening – so there you go! I wonder how much real estate is there?
Andorra was under both French and Spanish occupation until World War Two. Andorran cuisine is mostly Catalan with French influences. Lamb and pork are very popular and they love their pasta and vegetables, like potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage and celery, and they also eat fish.
Tomorrow – September 8 – Andorra will celebrate their national day. I would have cooked Andorran cuisine in celebration of this special day, but quite frankly, Tuesdays are a rat race for me with John’s football practice, and it is the kid’s first day of school! I don’t know if they’re happy about it but I certainly am!
Okay, here’s another reason why I want to move to Andorra, I love the food!! The dinner tonight was darn right yummy! We had Carpaccio of Andorran Veal, Catalan Spinach Salad, and Trinxat (cabbage and potato cake). It was a bit of a pain to make but I’d do it again. I think the biggest problem tonight was that I had three things going at once. I was in a frenzy trying to mash potato and cabbage into bacon grease while tying rolled up veal with string, and blanching spinach all at the same time!.
Carpaccio of Andorran Veal is a traditional Andorran recipe of thinly sliced veal filled with mushrooms coated in honey and covered with grated Parmesan cheese. This was not a hard recipe – if I wasn’t mashing and blanching. Only two things gave me pause. For one, it called for finely sliced ceps. I had no idea what ceps were and had to get out the handy dandy dictionary. Ceps are mushrooms. Aka Porcini. I know what porcinis are! Also, the recipe requires basil, and wouldn’t you know, I forgot to get basil at the grocery store yesterday. I couldn’t run out to the store and get it – the grocery stores were closed since it’s Labor Day. Those who live in U.S. cities will have a hard time imagining having days where everything shuts down. Well, it does here! So I had to use dry basil as a subsititute. It was the best I could do.
Trinxat. This is a traditional Andorran recipe of fried potato and cabbage cake served with bacon. This took some time, and linguistically it was complicated. I had to boil the potatoes and cabbage, then mash them, then cook the bacon, then take half (and I had a crap load) of the potato mixture and add it to the bacon grease and flatten it like a pancake. Now here’s the good part: when the one side was brown I had to flip this huge pile of mush onto a plate and then flip it back again into the pan to cook the other side. Easier said then done when one side is stuck to the pan and the other side is mush and your plate is smaller than your pan and you're wondering how you're going to flip it without it all coming apart or dropping on the floor. When it was done I was supposed to neatly cut it in thirds and cover each slice with bacon . Yeah, well, I did that, but it didn’t look pretty. For the second half of my mixture I got smart and made little pancakes. Why didn’t I think of that before?
Lastly, I made the Catalan Spinach Salad that was actually quite easy to do and the end result was fantastic. I will definitely make that again. Kevin and the kids liked every thing ( truthfully the kids weren’t crazy about the spinach but they forced themselves to eat it anyway. Kevin loved the spinach – he said that was his favorite). Julia loved the Trinxat – she practically ate the whole plate, and the veal was superb too. John gave the meal a 7.5 out of 10, ( I gave it a 9) but quite honestly, he was so tired from playing his football game (where he scored 4 touchdowns!) that I’m not sure if he was fully present.
But I was in the moment, savoring the Andorran dishes and dreaming of living in the little country wedged between France and Spain.
CARPACCIO OF ANDORRAN VEAL
6 thin slices of veal
250 g ceps, finely sliced
juice 1 lemon
1 TBSP basil leaves, shredded
150 g freshly-grated parmesan
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Salt, white pepper
Slice the veal into very thin slices (or buy it already sliced thin), then add to bowl along with the lemon juice, basil leaves, 3 TBSP olive oil, garlic, salt and white pepper. Set aside for 20 minutes to marinate. Spread veal with honey and then add oil to pan and fry meat for about 20 seconds per side, then remove. Arrange ceps over the veal then roll the slices and tie with string - ensuring the ends are closed. Brush with oilve oil then cook on a griddle pan just long enough to make the outside. Remove the string, brush the meat with honey, then dip in the grated Parmesan to coat.
CATALAN SPINACH SALAD
2 bunches of spinach, stemmed, shredded and blanched
2 TBSP olive oil
50g pine nuts
Gently fry the garlic with with oil until the garlic turns golden, then add the raisins and the pine nuts. Cook and stir until the raisins plump up and the pine nuts begin to color. Arrange the spinach in a warmed serving bowl and top it with the raisin and pine nut mixture.
1 savory cabbage
About 4 large baking potatoes, peeled
12 thick bacon slices
1 garlic clove
75g bacon fat, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper.
Bring two pots of water to a boil - one for the cabbage and one for the potatoes. After adding the potatoes and cabbage to the water return to boil, reduce heat of the cabbage and simmer for about 45 minutes. Drain the potatoes, return to pot and toss over low heat to dry, then transfer to a large bowl. When cabbage is done, drain, cool. Take out core, then drain again (I shredded the the cabbage and took out the core before I boiled it). Squeeze to extract any more water (while the cabbage was in the strainer I used my potato masher to extract the water. It will be way too hot to actually squeeze with your hands). Add cabbage to bowl with the potatoes and mash them, then season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
In a large frying pan, fry bacon until well done - drain and set aside. Add half of the bacon fat to the pan and then cook until the fat is rendered. Add half of the potato mixture and flatten into a pancake. Cook on high until base forms at nice crust (about 8 minutes). Place a large plate over the pan and invert so the trinxat falls on the plate. Now slide back into pan to cook the other side. Repeat with the remaining potato mixture. Cover with bacon slices, then cut and serve.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
You can eat Algerian food, but don’t travel there! A travel warning was issued by the U.S. State Department urging U.S. citizens to carefully evaluate all the risks before embarking on a trip to the North African country. It said, “Terrorist attacks including bombings, false roadblocks, kidnappings, ambushes, and assassinations occur regularly.” Okay then.
Algeria is the largest country on the Mediterranean or the second largest on the African continent. The North African region served as a transit for people migrating towards Europe or the Middle East eons ago. Out of this mix developed the Berber people. Their language and culture dominated most of the land until the spread of Islam and the coming of the Arabs. A large portion of the population still speaks Berber, although Algerians today speak mostly Arabic. The country was occupied by France, but it won its independence in 1962. However, since 1992, thousands have died due to civil unrest and assassinations. I hate to say it, but my Algerian roast chicken and vegetables looked like a bloody coup due to the red turnips and tomato sauce mixed in it, and my kitchen looked like a bomb had blown up in it after I was done cooking (the picture does not do it justice).
Since it’s a long weekend I decided that I would cook the cuisines of two countries - tomorrow I’m cooking the cuisine of Andorra. Today Julia and I went to the grocery store with my list in hand for all the dishes I’ll be attempting for both countries (five in all) and I had to get it today because everything is going to be closed tomorrow due to Labor Day. Yes, they celebrate Labor Day in Canada. At the grocery store I was throwing into my cart root vegetables that I may have heard of but rarely eaten – and certainly not cooked. In the check-out line the cashier kept asking me the names of the vegetables. “Red Turnips,” I answered, “And that’s white turnips... Savory cabbage...Parsnip?” In my Algerian couscous the recipe called for one rutabaga. I had no idea what a rutabaga was. I looked it up in the dictionary. It’s a large, round, yellow-fleshed root. They didn’t have any rutabaga at my local grocery store so I substituted parsnip. And even though the recipe only called for 2 turnips, I bought 2 red turnips and 2 white. I think I got a little carried away with the root vegetables.
While making dinner Kevin and John were at football practice. Julia “helped” but she was more interested in her “Hanna Montana” show. I went to town in the kitchen and left quite a mess. Yes, I am what you would call a “messy cook.” When Kevin and John came home from practice Kevin walked in the kitchen and then walked right back out. "It looks complicated in there," he said. It looked more complicated than it actually was. But good strategy ladies - the messier your kitchen the more your family will appreciate your meal figuring you've slaved for them (throw some flour in you face too to give it the full affect).
The main course for our family dinner was Algerian couscous. It involved roasting a chicken and lots of vegetables and then serving the chicken/vegetable mixture on a bed of couscous (I bought organic whole wheat couscous. I got a rolling of the eyes from John for that one). Despite all the root vegetables (which are very good for you, by the way) it tasted good. John and I even went back for seconds.
For dessert I made an Algerian Charlotte. It comprised of dates and almonds and heavy cream. It was okay. It tasted like eating almond whipped cream (because that's essentially what it was). Dates are a traditional food of Algeria, along with couscous. So all in all, we tasted a good (yet small) sampling of Algerian cuisine.
1 box couscous
1 can tomato sauce
3 large carrots
1 large onion
Cook chicken until tender and then debone. Cut vegetables in chunks and cook in chicken broth ( I didn’t think there was enough broth to cook the vegetables so I added a can of chicken broth. I cooked the vegetables in the roasting pan in the oven). Add chicken and tomato sauce and let it simmer. Cook couscous (according to the box – it’s very easy). Once couscous is fluffy, serve on plates and cover it with chicken and vegetables.
1 cup dates
juice of 1 orange
1 1/2 cup water
3 TBSP honey
1 TBSP gelatin
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup chopped almonds
2 TBSP sliced almonds
2 chopped dates
grated peel of 1/2 orange
Remove the pits from the dates (I bought the dried dates in a bag). Cut them into quarters and set them aside. Squeeze the orange juice into a sauce pan. Add water and honey. Sprinkle the gelatin onto the mixture. When it dissolves, stir briefly and add the quartered dates. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer., covered for 30 minutes. Cool. Strain the mixture and reserve the liquid. Whip the cream until it stands in peaks. Add almonds to the date liquid and fold into the cream. Spoon into serving dish. Decorate with sliced almonds, chopped dates and grated orange peel. Chill for 2 hours.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
It’s hard to find things about Albania. I went to the library and the bookstore looking for Albanian recipes and had no luck. Not even the travel section had much about the country. Thank God for the internet.
Albania is a Mediterranean country in South Eastern Europe – next to Greece and Italy. It’s slightly larger than the state of Maryland with a population of about 3 million. It’s had a rough history – it went through a series of attacks and occupations from the Romans, Byzantines, the Bulgarians, Norman crusaders, and the Turks. You’d think they’d have a major identity crisis, but nonetheless, it has one of the highest life expectancies in the world. It’s also one of those rare countries that actually likes the U.S. (And while Bush was still president!) Woodrow Wilson supported Albanian independence in 1919 and they credit the NATO bombing of Serbia of 1999 with saving thousands of Kosovo Albanians. They were also one of the few (and mostly obscure) countries that supported the war in Iraq. I tried to overlook that small detail while I dove into making Tave Kosi.
Finding Albanian recipes may have been a challenge but it was a heck of a lot cheaper than our Afghan cuisine experience. Plus the children had a fun time making the Baklava. Since I am not much of a baker I was a little nervous about making this dessert, but it was so easy, that once I showed the kids what to do, they practically did it themselves. They even took turns and were pleasant to each other! Our main course was Tave Kosi (baked lamb and yogurt) and Tomato Cucumber Salad. The salad was a cinch and yummy – very much like a Greek salad with olive oil, Kalamata olives and feta cheese. The lamb dish wasn’t hard to make but I didn’t quite “get it” when it was all said and done. For instance, I had to bake the lamb in butter and add two Tablespoons of rice before I put in two pounds (!) of yogurt and five eggs. What’s the point of putting in a measly 2 tablespoons of rice when you can’t even see or taste it when it's all done? And, yes, it ‘s called Lamb and Yogurt but it should have been called Lamb, Yogurt, and Egg. More accurately it should have been called Lamb Omelet because that’s exactly what it looked and tasted like. I had no pictures of this dish to go by so, who knows, maybe I did something wrong. And honestly, I don’t have a kitchen scale so I didn’t know how much exactly two pounds of yogurt was so I just threw in a whole big container.
The kids enjoyed the meal – though they rushed through it so they could try the Baklava. We ate the salad with the lamb, but the Albanians eat their salad first (that’s very European). All and all it was a hit – especially the dessert!
Again, Kevin missed our dinner because he was late coming home from work. But I made sure to provide him with plenty of leftovers which didn’t quite look as appetizing by the time he got home, especially the “lamb omelet” with the egg cold and hard from sitting in the refrigerator - just the kind of meal he was hoping for after a long day at the office. (Don’t worry, I heated it up for him!) He actually enjoyed it ( and he found some rice!). Being a sweet tooth he liked the Baklava too.
Tave Kosi - Baked Lamb and Yogurt
1-1/2 lbs of lamb
4 TBSP butter
2 TBSP rice
For Yogurt Sauce:
1 TBSP flour
4 TBSP butter
2 lbs yogurt (or one large container)
Cut meat in 4 serving pieces, sprinkle each with salt and pepper, and bake in oven with butter. When meat is half-baked, add rice, remove the baking pan from the oven and leave it aside while you prepare the yogurt sauce: Saute flour in butter until mixed thoroughly. Mix yogurt with salt, pepper and eggs until a uniform mixture is obtained, and finally stir in the flour. Put the sauce mixture in the baking pan and bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes.
Albanian Tomato Cucumber Salad
2- 3 tomatoes, diced
1 cucumber, sliced and quartered
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 green pepper, diced
1/8 cup olive oil
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/2 cup kalamata olives
Combine vegetables and toss. Drizzle olive oil over salad and season to taste. Garnish with olives and cheese.
1 lb of mixed nuts (I used 2 bags of chopped walnuts)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 (16 ounce) package phyllo dough
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup white sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp grated lemon zest
Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9x13 inch baking dish. Toss together cinnamon and nuts. Unroll phyllo and cut stack in half to fit the dish. Place two sheets of phyllo in the bottom of the prepared dish. Brush generously with butter. Sprinkle 2 to 3 TBSP of the nut mixture on top. Repeat layers until all ingredients are used. Cut baklava into four long rows, then (nine times) diagonally to make 36 diamond shapes.
Bake for 50 minutes, until golden and crisp.
While baklava is baking, combine sugar and water in a small sauce pan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Stir in honey, vanilla and lemon zest, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.
Remove the baklava from the oven and immediately spoon the syrup over it. Let cool completely before serving. Store uncovered.